Thoughts To Live By…

Archive for the ‘Credit Card’ Category


by Dana Dratch
Friday, March 19, 2010

Debit cards have different protections and uses. Sometimes they’re not the best choice.

Sometimes reaching for your wallet is like a multiple choice test: How do you really want to pay?

While credit cards and debit cards may look almost identical, not all plastic is the same.

“It’s important that consumers understand the difference between a debit card and a credit card,” says John Breyault, director of the Fraud Center for the National Consumers League, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. “There’s a difference in how the transactions are processed and the protections offered to consumers when they use them.”

While debit cards and credit cards each have advantages, each is also better suited to certain situations. And since a debit card is a direct line to your bank account, there are places where it can be wise to avoid handing it over — if for no other reason than complete peace of mind.

Here are 10 places and situations where it can pay to leave that debit card in your wallet:

1. Online

“You don’t use a debit card online,” says Susan Tiffany, director of consumer periodicals for the Credit Union National Association. Since the debit card links directly to a checking account, “you have potential vulnerability there,” she says.

Her reasoning: If you have problems with a purchase or the card number gets hijacked, a debit card is “vulnerable because it happens to be linked to an account,” says Linda Foley, founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center. She also includes phone orders in this category.

The Federal Reserve’s Regulation E  (commonly dubbed Reg E), covers debit card transfers. It sets a consumer’s liability for fraudulent purchases at $50, provided they notify the bank within two days of discovering that their card or card number has been stolen.

Most banks have additional voluntary policies that set their own customers’ liability with debit cards at $0, says Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel for the American Bankers Association.

But the protections don’t relieve consumers of hassle: The prospect of trying to get money put back into their bank account, and the problems that a lower-than-expected balance can cause in terms of fees and refused checks or payments, make some online shoppers reach first for credit cards.

2. Big-Ticket Items

With a big ticket item, a credit card is safer, says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. A credit card offers dispute rights if something goes wrong with the merchandise or the purchase, she says.

“With a debit card, you have fewer protections,” she says.

In addition, some cards will also offer extended warrantees. And in some situations, such as buying electronics or renting a car, some credit cards also offer additional property insurance to cover the item.

Two caveats, says Wu. Don’t carry a balance. Otherwise, you also risk paying some high-ticket interest. And “avoid store cards with deferred interest,” Wu advises.

3. Deposit Required

When Peter Garuccio recently rented some home improvement equipment at a big-box store, it required a sizable deposit. “This is where you want to use a credit card instead of a debit,” says Garuccio, spokesman for the national trade group American Bankers Association.

That way, the store has its security deposit, and you still have access to all of the money in your bank account. With any luck, you’ll never actually have to part with a dollar.

4. Restaurants

“To me, it’s dangerous,” says Gary Foreman, editor of the frugality minded Web site The Dollar Stretcher. “You have so many people around.”

Foreman bases his conclusions on what he hears from readers. “Anecdotally, the cases that I’m hearing of credit or debit information being stolen, as often as not, it’s in a restaurant,” he says.

The danger: Restaurants are one of the few places where you have to let cards leave your sight when you use them. But others think that avoiding such situations is not workable.

The “conventional advice of ‘don’t let the card out of your sight’ — that’s just not practical,” says Tiffany.

The other problem with using a debit card at restaurants: Some establishments will approve the card for more than your purchase amount because, presumably, you intend to leave a tip. So the amount of money frozen for the transaction could be quite a bit more than the amount of your tab. And it could be a few days before you get the cash back in your account.

5. You’re a New Customer

Online or in the real world, if you’re a first-time customer in a store, skip the debit card the first couple of times you buy, says Breyault.

That way, you get a feel for how the business is run, how you’re treated and the quality of the merchandise before you hand over a card that links to your checking account.

6. Buy Now, Take Delivery Later

Buying now but taking delivery days or weeks from now? A credit card offers dispute rights that a debit card typically does not.

“It may be an outfit you’re familiar with and trust, but something might go wrong,” says Breyault, “and you need protection.”

But be aware that some cards will limit the protection to a specific time period, says Feddis. So settle any problems as soon as possible.

7. Recurring Payments

We’ve all heard the urban legend about the gym that won’t stop billing an ex-member’s credit card. Now imagine the charges aren’t going onto your card, but instead coming right out of your bank account.

Another reason not to use the debit card for recurring charges: your own memory and math skills. Forget to deduct that automatic bill payment from your checkbook one month, and you could either face fees or embarrassment (depending on whether you’ve opted to allow overdrafting or not). So if you don’t keep a cash buffer in your account, “to protect yourself from over-limit fees, you may want to think about using a credit card” for recurring payments, says Breyault.

8. Future Travel

Book your travel with a check card, and “they debit it immediately,” says Foley. So if you’re buying travel that you won’t use for six months or making a reservation for a few weeks from now, you’ll be out the money immediately.

Another factor that bothers Foley: Hotels aren’t immune to hackers and data breaches, and several name-brand establishments have suffered the problem recently. Do you want your debit card information “to sit in a system for four months, waiting for you to arrive?” she asks. “I would not.”

9. Gas Stations and Hotels

This one depends on the individual business. Some gas stations and hotels will place holds to cover customers who may leave without settling the entire bill. That means that even though you only bought $10 in gas, you could have a temporary bank hold for $50 to $100, says Tiffany.

Ditto hotels, where there are sometimes holds or deposits in the hundreds to make sure you don’t run up a long distance bill, empty the mini bar or trash the room. The practice is almost unnoticeable if you’re using credit, but can be problematic if you’re using a debit card and have just enough in the account to cover what you need.

At hotels, ask about deposits and holds before you present your card, says Feddis. At the pump, select the pin-number option, she says, which should debit only the amount you’ve actually spent.

10.  Checkouts or ATMs That Look ‘Off’

Criminals are getting better with skimmers and planting them in places you’d never suspect — like ATM machines on bank property, says Foley.

So take a good look at the machine or card reader the next time you use an ATM or self-check lane, she advises. Does the machine fit together well or does something look off, different or like it doesn’t quite belong? Says Foley, “Make sure it doesn’t look like it’s been tampered with.”

http://finance.yahoo.com/banking-budgeting/article/109125/10-places-not-to-use-your-debit-card?mod=bb-checking_savings

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pastdue

Grade yours on a 10-point scale.

Nobody’s perfect. When it comes to our financial lives, we’ve all done things we later regretted — whether it’s getting slapped with a $3 fee for using an out-of-network ATM or going on a Las Vegas bender and losing the house on an overly aggressive poker bet.

The key is to understand the scale of the transgression. With credit card blunders, that’s no easy task — is it worse to take a cash advance or to pay a bill a day or two late? Experts graded a range of credit card mistakes on a scale from 1 (losing a few bucks to a cash machine) to 10 (losing the house). Find out which worry the pros most — and which may (almost) get a free pass.

Paying Late
How bad is it? 6
The details:
Credit card companies are notoriously prickly about late payments — even a payment that’s late by a few minutes can pile up fees, interest charges and other penalties. Depending on how late the payment is, your card issuer may also report the problem to any of the credit bureaus, which can wreak havoc on your credit score. The good news, says Stacy Francis, president of Francis Financial, is that the error may be reversible. “You do have the option of giving the credit card company a call and asking them not to report it,” she says. “If you’ve generally been an on-time payer, they may waive the fees and not report it.”

Paying Only the Minimum on Your Card
How bad is it? 4
The details:
Credit card companies love it when you pay off your debt slowly, but you should loathe it. It won’t necessarily affect your credit score, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good practice. Sending in only the minimum payment “is definitely going to keep you in debt longer, and you’re going to pay a heck of a lot more in interest,” says Francis. “You may be paying twice as much — or more — as you would by paying in cash.”

Buying On a Card Just For Rewards
How bad is it? 1
The details:
If you’re paying off your balance on time and in full, using your cards to grab extra rewards isn’t necessarily a bad plan, says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “You can win the rewards card game if you know how to play,” she says. “But you do have to know yourself.” Because most people spend more when they’re paying with plastic than with cash, be cautious and recognize when you’re buying something only because plastic makes the purchase painless.

Missing a Payment
How bad is it? 9
The details:
Not only are you going to be slammed with fees, interest charges and other penalties when you miss a payment, but you’ll likely see a rise in your interest rates. If that weren’t bad enough, you’ll also have to contend with a significant hit to your credit report — about 35 percent of your credit score is based on your ability to pay bills on time. As a result, you’ll pay more when you try to get a loan. “Missing a payment has both immediate and long-term consequences,” says Clarky Davis, Care One Debt Relief’s Debt Diva. “You may be dealing with the fallout for years.”

Having Too Many Cards
How bad is it? 6
The details:
If you’re the type to apply for a card just so you can grab a discount on clothes or other merchandise, you likely have a huge stack of cards in your purse or wallet. You’re probably not getting enough value from the card to make it worth the high interest rates or additional complications from additional bills and junk cluttering your mailbox — and you’re increasing the likelihood that a payment slips through the cracks or that you’ll be a victim of identity theft. “There’s rarely a good reason to get a new card if you’ve already got a general-purpose card, a rewards card and a low interest card,” says Cunningham.

Maxing Out a Card
How bad is it? 7
The details:
Maxing out a card can have a serious impact on your credit score, since about 30 percent of your score is based on “credit utilization” — the amount of credit you’ve used relative to the amount you have available. More important, says Davis, is the fact that it likely signifies a distressing trend in your personal finances. “Maxing out a card may not have an immediate financial pull, but it’s a sign that you’re not budgeting or spending your money wisely,” she says. “It means you don’t have enough saved up to cover unexpected expenses.”

Playing the Balance Transfer Game
How bad is it? 5
The details:
Moving your debt from a high-interest card to a low-interest card with a balance transfer isn’t as smart a move as you think, says Francis. “About 15 percent of your credit score is affected by your recent credit applications,” she notes. Pile up a few transfers and your score will take a hit. “Credit bureaus don’t (differentiate) that these cards are for the same [debt], they just see it as you getting pre-approved for more and more credit.” Add in the fees that generally accompany balance transfers and you’re not gaming the system — you’re getting hammered by it.

Debt Settlement Plans
How bad is it? 9.5
The details:
If you’re overwhelmed by debt, negotiating down your balance with the credit card company (also called debt settlement) sometimes helps you pay pennies on the dollar on your debt — but you’ll pay a steep price. First, there’s the tax hit you’ll take for the amount of debt that’s forgiven — it will count as income during that tax year. And your credit score will be decimated, so don’t expect you’ll be able to take out a loan soon after consolidation. Next to bankruptcy, debt settlement “is the most negative thing you can do to your credit score,” says Francis.

Getting a Cash Advance?
How bad is it? 8
The details:
It may feel like free money, but the truth is that it’s anything but: You’ll likely have a fee associated with the advance, and you’ll likely pay a higher interest rate than you would by using the card associated with it. “You also have no grace period,” notes Cunningham. “You’ll start accruing interest from the moment you get the money.” While these are all dangerous attributes in and of themselves, they’re not the worst part, says Cunningham. “When you start using cash advances, you have to understand why you’re using them as they’re likely symptomatic of a deep financial problem.”

Using a Card in a Pinch
How bad is it? 2
The details:
If the fridge went on the fritz or the furnace conked out in mid-January, you might not have the means to fund its immediate replacement. Putting the bill on a credit card — and paying it off quickly over the course of a few months — is a pretty solid option, says Cunningham. “You don’t want something like that to become standard operating procedure,” says Cunningham. “But it’s OK to have a balance on a card for a few months when you’re going through a rough patch in your financial life. Just make sure it’s on a card without an annual fee or with a very low annual fee.”

http://finance.yahoo.com/banking-budgeting/article/107996/how-bad-are-your-credit-card-mistakes?mod=bb-creditcards


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